Bill Matsikoudis: Taking the Next Step and Running for Mayor of Jersey City
by Chris Salboudis
Better, greener, safer, more affordable living. These are at the forefront of the many issues that Jersey City’s 2017 Mayoral Candidate, Bill Matsikoudis, has taken on for the past fifteen years. After serving as City Attorney for nine years Bill sees this election year as a new way to give back to his home town at a new level. In an exclusive interview with NEO Magazine Bill explains why he is running for Mayor: “I have a deep love and old family ties to Jersey City…. I’m dedicated to continue making it a better place.”
When asked who inspired him to take such an interest in family and community Bill credits his parents and shares the story of his father, Elpidoforos Matsikoudis, who immigrated to Jersey City from Thessaloniki. “My Father was one of my greatest friends ever. He was a great inspiration to me. He demanded excellence and was a lover of Greece and Greek culture, which is what drew me to it even after he passed away. Learning and being a part of the Greek community was a way of staying closer to him.”
Elpidoforos established himself as a small business owner, and met his wife Eileen – whose father served the Jersey City community for over twenty years – with whom he started a family of seven. Eileen Matsikoudis’ family was part of a flourishing community in New Jersey dating back to the Civil War era. Today’s Greek community in Jersey City consists of a population of approximately one thousand residents and business owners, which continues to thrive thanks to the thoughtful dedication of the Matsikoudis family and other residents.
At age 45, Bill is delving into countless critical issues with an amazing energy and commitment that has earned him the trust and admiration of his constituents. He is no stranger to hard work, having joined the workforce at age 16 while attending school, graduating both undergraduate and law school at Seton Hall University with honors and proceeding to work for a very prominent law firm.
In 1997 Bill was recruited to work on EU trade issues with the Greek judge in the European Court of Justice, which is the Supreme Court of the European Union, in Luxemburg. In 2004 – then again in 2005 and 2009 – Bill was nominated to Jersey City’s Corporation Counsel, at which time he worked to reduce the Law Department’s budget and its dependence on outside legal counsel. A chief proponent of environmental, sustainable alternatives in all aspects of city planning, he took action against corporate polluters, which led to the revitalization of over thirty-two acres of contaminated land. This remarkably bold move brought millions of dollars back to the City treasury and went a long way towards his goal to redirect the budget to ensure affordable quality living conditions for Jersey City residents.
The youngest of seven, Bill knows the various challenges that families face. A good portion of his campaign is focused on making sure families have affordable living options. This plan includes real estate and financing options as well as the creation of valuable educational and professional opportunities for the residents of this rapidly-developing city, and ensuring that every tax dollar goes towards developing a greener, stronger community. Jersey City is currently the second largest city in the state of New Jersey – second only to Newark. “There have been so many improvements here over the years – major changes leading to gentrification, which some people thought was a positive change because it attracted a lot of new residents, but there have been side effects and the cost of living has gone up so drastically that it’s not affordable for families who have lived here for a long time. A number of developers and Fortune 500 companies dug their heels in and really just destroyed the area in terms of making it too costly for our longstanding citizens to live here. It completely undermines the reason we, the Jersey City residents, initially considered the need for improvements.”
Over the years, Bill has represented various clients in successful lawsuits against Fortune 500 companies and other developers, forcing them to address and correct the damage caused by the extensive neglect of the sites they polluted. Bill is now determined to continue along this path and intends to continue pushing for essential amenities like environmental sustainability, rent stabilization, and financial assistance on homes for veterans and city employees, which will help keep them in the people they serve.
In previous years Bill acted on his instinct to provide for his community by serving as one of the founding collaborators of a construction apprenticeship program in Jersey City that provides elemental training opportunities for residents who wish to pursue careers in the construction industry. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as this aspect of his campaign is concerned. If elected, Bill has several similar initiatives in mind to promote employment and education for Jersey City residents.
Another reason Bill chose to run is that he has a deep-seated love for public service. “It’s just something that’s always been in me. Spiritually, it’s incredibly fulfilling to help others. It’s also very intellectually stimulating to be constantly engaging others, to find ways to improve lives, and create opportunities.” Even as Bill explains this he pauses to speak to one vendor in English, another in Spanish, and another in Greek. When asked if this was part of a typical moment for him Bill smiled, greeting yet another member of the community. “Yeah, pretty much.” It was a delightful change to see civil engagement coming so naturally to the young Mayoral Candidate. Anyone can tell that this isn’t just a job or an election for him. Greeting and supporting his neighbors – young, old, veterans, students – are all neighbors and friends to Bill and deserving of what Greeks call Philotimo. It’s very clear that Bill is a proud Jersey City resident and a vital member of the community. He is “a man of the people” in every sense of the term.
Budgetary transparency and reallocation of funds towards education and job readiness are at the top Bill’s list. Governor Christie’s “confused budgetary plan” is yet another reason that Bill decided to run for Mayor this year. “City government doesn’t control education here. We work closely with an independent company that reviews and sets the budget. The state has a lot of tax money, but up to this point not much of it is being put towards schools in Jersey City. It’s time to change that. We need to put more towards the schools.”
Related to this is the commitment to creating jobs in Jersey City. The rapid development Bill mentioned earlier in the interview is linked to the trend for new residents to be commuters. “Part of the land that is set to be redeveloped can be dedicated to light industrial real estate and office spaces. We need to create opportunities for more local jobs. We also want to create opportunities for training and support. We have the potential to retain and hire the best and the brightest, to create a meritocracy – a hiring system based on skill. It starts with the improvement of higher education with a focus on our residents, their needs and interests.”
Another part of his plan for making Jersey City better for its inhabitants is tied to his outline for a greener city, starting with the parks system. His love of the parks and community development issues undoubtedly stems from his admiration for his maternal grandfather, who served as Director of Parks and Forestry. Throughout his own time as City Attorney, Bill promoted parks and helped in the revitalization of the city. Parks with such potential – Pershing Field, Fulton Avenue Park, and many more – were abandoned and left to deteriorate.
It took several years of additional debates and consortia for serious progress to be made over the years. Today, Bill is moving towards a slightly bolder plan to make good on an old promise to the city that was never fulfilled by his opponent: “We have an amazing parks system that has amazing potential to become worthy of national and global attention! We’re reworking some of the areas into a series of walkways that will be connected by greenways, as I’ve outlined in various discussions on parks and recreation.”
A detailed whitepaper is available on Bill’s webpage. “One thing we can do when planning our new parks is design them in a way that will ensure that access for all and that the recreational opportunities they offer take into consideration what is needed and lacking in a given neighborhood…. We can’t underestimate the power of nature and recreational upon people’s lives” (mats4mayor.com). Bill has specific regions or Jersey City in mind, namely Reservoir 3, the 6th Street Embankment, the Skyway Park, the Bayfront Parks, the Hackensack and Hudson River Walkways, and a final push for the endorsement of the Greenways to connect the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers. Practical, functional, aesthetic… For Bill, the matter of utility and beautification is part of a promise made to the community that should be upheld for the many benefits it will bring to the health and engagement of its inhabitants. He sees the city’s potential not just as a Mayoral Hopeful looking to impress, but as a member of the neighborhood, born and raised there, with the best interest of his fellow residents at heart.
Closely linked to this matter are the topics of improved city planning and public safety. According to Bill, crime remains a major issue in Jersey City. Traditionally, crimes in the Jersey City area range in severity, with most crimes falling in the categories of assault and battery, robberies and shootings. While crime rates seem to have plateaued somewhat, the rates are still too high for residents to feel safe. As stated in Bill’s whitepaper for public safety, “False starts and symbolic gestures like isolated foot patrols, halfhearted social outreach, or photo ops reek of insincerity and erode public faith in the police and the city’s political leadership. The people can see these for what they are, and so can the police. When a foot patrol route is considered ‘easy duty,’ instead of the real duty to learn from and work with the community that it is, community policing is doomed before it can begin.”
What’s the solution? One of the first steps is to get the guns out of the city. In his previous years as City Attorney, Bill drafted legislation to reduce the flow of illegal guns onto the streets of Jersey City. To this end, he defended the law against the NRA in front of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Bill is intent on reviewing and improving citywide policing. “Crime is a serious matter here. It’s time to move from just paying this problem the perfunctory lip service. We need to build a more serious commitment to fighting crime.” Another solution is what Bill refers to an “Organizational Evolution” of community policing that incorporates training, trust, community partnerships, and additional strategies are mapped out in further detail in his formal public safety policy.
Bill’s respect for equality, justice and a better lifestyle for all does not end at the borders of Jersey City. When asked about his views on Hellenic issues here and abroad Bill discussed his position about our brothers and sisters in Cyprus. “I’m very passionate about the Cyprus issue. As Greeks we have to remain steadfast and dedicated to a free and unified Cyprus, which means that Turkish troops need to be evacuated…. As the City Attorney I led the movement to raise the Cypriot flag above the flag in City Hall.”
Of course, in addition to the strong positions Bill is taking, which stem from the family values and cultural heritage that are closely tied to his Greek upbringing, what makes the Bill campaign attractive to the Greek and Greek American audience is his dedication to yet another topic we hold dear – history and legacy. “Jersey City is blessed with many historic buildings that can be used for many purposes that will not only enhance the aesthetics of our City’s environment, but also be functional as well…. We believe that communities thrive when they find ways to honor their past.”
To date, Bill’s campaign has been running successfully. He has raised over $350,000 towards the support of his amazing staff as well as his televised and online ad campaigns, direct mailing, community forums, etc. According to current projections he will need to raise another $300,000 to keep his campaign up and running through November 7th.
Bill Matsikoudis looks forward to putting his diverse experience and devotion for Jersey City to work for his neighbors as Mayor. For more information on the campaign or to contribute his webpage is mats4mayor.com.